"A recent survey of over 1,000 video-gamers and their parents found that 80% of these parents report being familiar with, and paying close attention to, the ESRB ratings.  Over half of the parents surveyed report that the ESRB ratings are a major influence on whether or not they purchase a game for their children, and that they also actively research the content of videogames before purchasing them. 

Past research on the ESRB ratings has shown that they do not always indicate the presence, amount or intensity of certain content (violence, alcohol, sexual behavior, etc) in each game.  See related research:

Aside from the ESRB ratings, another option for learning more about games before purchasing them is to read reviews from Common Sense Media, where they base ratings on "developmental criteria recommendations from some of the nation’s leading authorities.” 

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